Allow me to share a quick story about being a 12-year-old during the holiday season of 1989. I was no stranger to dropping hints about presents I wanted whenever Christmas rolled around in previous years. In fact, I knew I was getting to the age where I was well past Santa Claus and I also knew, based on the observation of my older siblings, my days of getting a pile of toys on this day was closing...fast. At this time, I was already a dedicated gamer. Nintendo dominated my free time, and I had already had my fill of beating Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, Metroid, etc, etc, many times over. I wanted to go to the next level, and that holiday season, Nintendo knew exactly what it took to entice me - the introduction of...THE POWER GLOVE.
I had to have it. I mean, I was basically living a parallel life to Fred Savage at this age, and he was starring in a movie about the darn thing. I mean how often do video game hardware peripherals get their own movie? I begged for it. I was told it was just too expensive. I begged and begged and begged. The big morning came and...I didn’t get it. Hey, my best friend did, though. By 9am Christmas morning, 1989, I had opened all my presents. At approximately 9:05am, my best friend called me and told me he got the glove. I then explained to my mother like any sophisticated 12-year-old would after being given a pile of presents - I have to go over to my friend’s house now and play with a toy he got. So, I did. Boy, did I learn a valuable lesson that day.
At my friend’s house, he unveiled the glove. It was like touching the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. My friend and I were on a course to reach a new level of enlightenment. Gaming, as we knew it, was about to change forever. We set the thing up, my friend of course getting honors to play with the glove first, and proceeded to play Contra. It was a disaster. He couldn’t shoot in any desired direction, he couldn’t figure out how to jump and he would just plain get frozen in place, unable to advance on a side-scrolling game, which meant I was stuck on the far right of the screen, trying to advance but couldn’t, because my buddy was hampered by this wonderful technology. He got upset, tossed Contra out the machine, and slammed in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. “Now”, he said, “now we are going to see what this puppy can do!” as he shadow boxed in anticipation with his beloved new glove.
He lost to Glass Joe.
My friend, and there’s a reason I leave his name out of this story, lost his mind. He reset the game and lost to Glass Joe again. For those unaware, losing to Glass Joe in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out is akin to getting stumped by a maze on the back of a restaurant placemat. My friend had had enough. He tossed the glove off and said “Here, you try it!”, keeping in mind only an hour ago, he was gloating over the phone about how he had gotten this “Holy Grail” of video game accessories. So I slipped the glove on, felt like Buck Rodgers for about three and a half seconds and then proceeded to endure the most frustrating, pointless session of gaming in my life.
The Power Glove was a DUD.
Why do I share this story? Well, for one, it’s a nice one to tell. It brings back memories that I cannot help but chuckle at. But, I felt it sort of appropriate for this one-off, downtime during an international break, style of column I have for you today. We are here to talk about disappointments, folks. FPL players who we expect great thing from only to wind up getting “power gloved”. What follows are my picks for biggest busts at each position so far this season, along with some honorable mentions, and then a bit of prognosis about whether they can improve on their terrible starts. Perhaps as an FPL manager, you, yourself, are off to a bad start, too. Perhaps this could be cathartic for you then. Let’s get started, shall we?
Harry Kane - No need to build up to a grand finale, let us get the biggest disappointment of the season out in the open immediately. Level with the most expensive player in the game (Mo Salah the lone other, when the Week 1 deadline came, at 12.5m), and multi-time winner of the Golden Boot, Kane has been a big name in FPL for many years. In fact, last season, we saw a side of Kane we had not yet seen - a penchant for assisting. He doubled his previous career-high by doling out 14 assists, helping him to his biggest season point total of his FPL career - 242. It is no wonder, then, that when the Week 1 deadline for the new season came, nearly a million managers had Kane in their side, despite the heavy rumors of a move to Manchester City. Surely, less investment would have been seen had he been linked to a club outside the PL, but the prospects of a striker of his caliber, nailed on in City’s prolific attack was enough to make him appealing, no matter what his eventual fate was.
The season started with no Kane in the squad and the daunting task of taking on the club the world assumed he was set to join, Manchester City, and Spurs found a way to win without him. They won again the following week, pretty much without his services, as he came on for an 18 minute cameo. By Week 3, the City move was off, Kane was staying (at least until the next weekend), he was in the Starting XI, has been ever since, playing the full 90 in each and, to borrow a phrase from motivational speaker Matt Foley, his production has amounted to “Jack Squat”.
As much of a generational talent Kane has been and can continue to be, his awful start to the season is so bad, it’s downright remarkable - zero goals, zero assists and two yellow cards in 468 minutes of play, giving him a season total of NINE points to date. For context, last season’s 24 goal/14 assist/40 bonus/242 total point season, he had one yellow card. So if he has “increased” any numbers, it is doubling his cautions from last season by Week 3. Kane has held the label of “never scoring in August”, which actually kept some people off of rostering him to start last season, and he proceeded to explode from the jump. This though, this situation, seems much more than a calendar problem. It IS October now, after all.
Kane seems to be in a funk that is at least partially of his own making. He let it be known that he was not pleased with the management of José Mourinho last season, but he cannot argue with his personal numbers. Again, last season was his best to date. Now, he there are rumblings he is not happy with the direction of Nuno Espirito Santo. Perhaps he should take a page from teammate Heun-min Son’s professionalism. Son has seen his share of Tottenham’s ups and downs, managerial and tactical changes, but he keeps consistently keeping on, never causing a distraction, giving 100% and finding ways to do it no matter who the boss is or what role he is asked to play.
As a Tottenham fan, I wish I had optimism that Kane is destined to open the floodgates and return to the consistent goal-scorer we have known him to be. But for every week that passes in which he contributes nothing is another week closer to January, where he may be pushing yet again to leave. I would love to be wrong. I would love for him to re-enter the fantasy conversation, but at the time of this writing, he is the league’s biggest bust, and it is not even close. Matej Vydra has outscored him to date, and he has no goals, started only one game, and has only one game with more than one point. Kane is still clinging to 5% of rosters during the international break, somehow.
Raheem Sterling - This was a pick that pretty much cemented itself as soon as this season’s FPL game launched. Folks took one look at that 11m price tag and said “Yeah, no thanks”. He saw a significant drop in production last year, scoring ten goals - half as many as he registered the season before that, when he was at his peak value. So to see him priced at 11m this summer, the same as the previous summer, and with question marks about how “nailed on” he was, pricing him at 11m was a significant mistake by FPL in all fairness. They made him so expensive, no one even gave him a thought. Well, to be fair, 1.4% of managers do have him rostered at the moment. Maybe the bigger question is - who are those people?
Worries of a scaled-back role for Sterling this season, especially once Jack Grealish joined the side, were actually understated. Sterling is the second-most expensive City weapon in FPL and, in all honesty, even if everyone was priced the same, would be somewhere around the 11th best player on his own team? He has made only two starts in the club’s first seven league games, and he was removed before 70 minutes in one of those. In total, a single goal and no assists so far in the campaign, and that goal was part of a 5-0 home thrashing of Norwich. To be fair, you, the reader reading this right now, would probably have a 50/50 chance of scoring in that fixture.
This being his 11th season in the top flight, one may wonder if Sterling has seen his best days behind him, but one has to remember, he broke in super-young. He is actually in the “prime” of his professional career at the age of 26. It would appear that those prime years are being wasted the longer he stays with City, so something has got to give.
Well, according to rumors swirling for weeks, Sterling is on board with a January loan move to FC Barcelona. A high-profile club struggling at the moment, Sterling could move from an environment where he is seen as a peripheral figure to one where he could be the hero responsible for turning a club’s fortunes around. Like Kane, he is untouchable in FPL right now, but while Kane has a chance for redemption, whether while still with Spurs or eventually at City in January, Sterling does not appear to have any path except for one where he is out of the PL and therefore, officially finished as a fantasy option.
Lucas Digne - I wanted to be sure to include defenders in the conversation, even though the most expensive options are nowhere near as pricey as high-priced attacking players. Still, we are constantly in a battle to squeeze a premium defender or two in our teams to give it some balance and hopefully hit on one of those jackpot “clean sheet, assist, max bonus” type round hauls that tend to see a positive spike in the ranks more than any other area of the pitch. Digne was a popular preseason pick and many held on to him during the first seven weeks of the season, mainly because with defenders, even if you are hoping for some attacking returns and paying that extra to get it, even if they disappoint, there is not as much a feeling to abort because clean sheets are still in play.
Digne is taking that logic and tossing it out the window so far this season. After a pair of previous seasons in which he totaled 17 assists, among the leaders from fullbacks in that department, so far through seven games of what was, again, a pretty kind schedule, he has not registered a single one. What he does have though, is an own goal. So of the two clean sheet hauls he has, you can cancel one of those out. Basically, a clean sheet at Brighton in Week 3 with no bonus points has been his season highlight. FYI, any Everton defender could do that for you...for less money.
So what is the deal with Digne. Well, probably the biggest issue currently is that, the primary target for his assist potential, Dominic-Calvert Lewin, is injured, and has been so, whether playing or not, all season. The Toffees have done well to redistribute their production, which mainly consists of depending on their midfield talent to produce while DCL and Richarlison have missed so much time. So now, where Digne used to dominate as the primary crosser of balls that turn into assists, Andros Townsend has eaten into those stats. Add in further gut-punches like how he has been productive in midweek cup action and is now carrying a hamstring injury that may or may not be an issue come Week 8, and everything that could go wrong pretty much has for Digne investors.
Nick Pope - Sure, I will include one keeper in the conversation. I am all about inclusivity. This was actually rather easy to choose. For the elite 6m goalkeeper options, you are currently getting what you pay for, as Alisson, Edouard Mendy and Ederson are all among the league leaders at their position. Mendy is just a bit behind after missing a match to injury, but on a points per match basis, all three are spot-on equals, averaging a 5 point return every week. So, when you drop down to the next price point, you expect a bit of drop off, but still somewhat elite returns. Emiliano Martinez, who was a budget darling during his breakout season, saw his price balloon to 5.5m for this campaign while veteran Hugo Lloris is used to being priced here. Both are doing great, in the top four of keepers so far this season in points. It has been a mixed bag when you get to the 5m and 4.5m brackets, so to spend 5.5m on a keeper, in you mind, you have to expect that pick to be, if not in the top 5, certainly in the top ten on the leaderboard. Pope is currently not even in the top 15. Gentle reminder: there are only 20 starting keepers at any given time. To be outside the top 15 and priced at 5.5m when the season began - that is definitely a bust.
In the three previous seasons in which he was Burnley’s starter (he was out injured the entirety of the 2018/2019 campaign) Pope would hit double digit clean sheets in each one. This season, he did not collect one until just this past weekend, in a 0-0 home game against Norwich. If it takes a home game against the Canaries to provide the environment for the Clarets to keep a clean sheet, it does not speak well for their season-long outlook defensively. Let’s face it, this is a club that was built on defending. Turf Moor had the reputation of being a fortress, and Sean Dyche did a masterful job getting the best out of the talent he had in the back, which has mostly been Charlie Taylor, Ben Mee, James Tarkowski and Matt Lowton. The problem is, in this sport, there is no “set it and forget it”. This team is aging and, while they did go out this summer and actually make a significant signing for the first time in ages, it was not to upgrade the defense or bring in a prospect to groom as an eventual replacement. The side just looks sluggish. You have to remember - while not involved in European competition, save for one season, Dyche’s regulars start every single game when fit. Mee is no spring chicken at the age of 32, but when you consider the heavy amount of minutes he has been asked to play season after season, he has to have the legs of someone closer to 40.
With Pope, it is not an issue regarding the state of his future (like Kane), a lack of playing time (like Sterling) or just a drop off in production (like Digne). Every keeper’s success is at least partially dependent on the defense in front of him. The Clarets have clearly lost that defensive mojo over the past couple of seasons and are looking at being in danger of relegation after a couple of months of poor showings. One “soft” clean sheet, no bonus points to date...Pope has lost all fantasy appeal this season.
Jadon Sancho - The vast majority of us were not expecting Sancho to enter the United XI and immediately take the league by storm, but even the most pessimistic of pundits probably thought he would have made more of an impact than this by now. He has made only two starts, without a goal or an assist in six total appearances. His starting price of 9.5m has dropped a staggering half-million. So there is hope that he grows into his role and begins flexing his tekkers. Suddenly a 9m Sancho sounds interesting.
Riyad Mahrez - Well, from a pitch time versus production perspective, Mahrez is not in any sort of funk, (a goal and an assist in 154 minutes of play is by no means horrible) but boy has he been left in Siberia by Pep so far this season, not having made a start since Week 1 and has averaged EIGHT MINUTES per appearance in the last four games. Hard to believe for a guy that many felt was as viable an option as Jack Grealish was. We know not to guess with Pep Guardiola, but Mahrez’s minutes have been so drastically reduced, how will he even have a chance to impress enough to wiggle his way back in? It would seem an injury here or there is his only path to potential redemption.
Kai Havertz - To be fair, this was before there was even rumor of signing Romelu Lukakau, but, as the preseason was winding down, I was actually very fond of Havertz’s prospects this season. The previous campaign, the Blues could not find a talisman, despite enjoying a top four finish and a major trophy. Jorginho was the leading goal-getter in league play and that is all you need to know. So with a first season of seasoning under his belt and talks that he would be the “second coming of Eden Hazard”, Havertz appeared to be that perfect slick pick to start the season with, and get ahead of the bandwagon. Instead, it appears we may have to wait yet another year to get anything from this talent. Lukaku’s arrival created a domino effect and someone had to get the worst of that effect. Havertz is that person. Only one goal involvement so far and his minutes are not improving, with a half hour sub appearance in Week 6 and then a complete no-show in Week 7. There is some hope for Havertz though. If Thomas Tuchel feels a need to shake up the attack, and he has shown no signs of fear in doing that, Havertz will likely be the first to replace someone. Until then though, he wallows in fantasy limbo.
Right, let us leave the list at that, then. Do you have a fantasy weapon you were certain would succeed only to massively disappoint you? I would love to hear about it. Hit me up @FuzzyWarbles on Twitter. For now, enjoy the rest of your international break and I will see you next week for the Week 8 edition of Captain Obvious.